A/N: Here's a present for ShadedHeart Lamora. Hope you enjoy it!
Disclaimer: If Final Fantasy VI were a house, I couldn't afford the rent.
Faintly amused, he watched as his- 'captives?' No, that wasn't right, seeing as all but one of them had actually sneaked onto his ship of their own accord. 'Guests', now that sounded a little nicer- conferred. He'd liked the shocked look on their faces when he hit them with his proposal. He liked the excitement, the chaos, the panic. It was, on the whole, superior to the drudge of everyday life.
They came back with the idea of a coin toss. Novel. They had him pigeon-holed as a gambler. Fair enough. He'd say there was no better way to decide his fate, but he didn't believe in fate. He believed in chance.
Seconds later, a sliver of silver shot into the air and crashed, crashed against the wooden boards next to his feet. The grinning head of the King of Figaro looked up at him. He flicked a wan smile at his guests, picked it up, and turned it over in his fingers- and the King still grinned on the other side. They thought they'd got one over on him. Little did they know.
Setzer Gabbiani shrugged, and said, "Ha! How low can you get? I love it! Alright, I'll help you. Nothing to lose but my life... My life is a chip in your pile! Ante up!"
He started the endless flight towards the Empire. Flying, the only thing that gave him a thrill anymore, save for gambling. Somehow, the possibility of hurtling towards the ground and just ceasing to exist, as she had done, always brought the blood pounding into his skull, the nerves coursing through his body like an electric shock.
"Whoa!" Locke swore. "You sure this thing'll stay in the air?"
Setzer grinned a nihilistic smile. "I thought I told you- if it falls, it falls. Relax. You're taking a gamble just being on this ship- why not go downstairs and indulge in a game of blackjack?"
Locke shot him a dark look and went back below deck, no doubt cursing Setzer's name. For a second, the gambler almost thought of calling him back- the sky was a lonely place nowadays, with no other ship to chase. It was momentary, and he put his mind back to the flight, and the war against the Empire that lay beyond. Had he really done the right thing in offering his life, which had hitherto been comfortable, on the alter of an ideology he had no real belief in?
Well, it didn't do him any harm, he concluded. He was gambling with his life as the stake. If they won, well, they'd changed the world. He'd go down in history as one of the arbiters of change, as Daryl would go down in history as maker of the world's fastest airship. And if they lost? He could join her, in that great shadowy unknown. It was a win-win situation.
The smile stayed on his face for little more than a minute, before he remembered that if it was win-win, he wasn't gambling at all.
They'd been gone too long, he mused, sitting in his private cabin and swirling the remains of a tumbler of gin in his free hand. He toyed with the idea of leaving their fate up to chance, but something was troubling him. They'd just...walked out of his life, now he thought of it. Up and disappeared, with nothing more than a 'wait for us, we'll be back' and a cocky wave. It reminded him of the way she'd run away- asked him to wait on their hill. He'd gone over as he waited all the times they'd had on that hill- the nights where they'd sat back, watched the stars and wondered what it was other people saw in them. They weren't all that pretty, he thought, and Daryl said the romance was utterly lost on her. What, then, was this fascination mankind had with them? Neither of them could figure it out. And then, propping herself up on her elbows, Daryl had said, "Well, I know. Maybe we'll find out when we see them close up." To fly to the stars...he'd made it his dream. And, when he'd waited on that hill on the night she never came back from, he threw it away.
The glass of gin dropped from his hand. Daryl had flown away, gone to the stars without him, and he'd been fool enough to wait for her. Not this time. This time, he was going to hedge his bets. He didn't care who they were or what they were doing, these wannabe Returners and Kings and Monks. They were coming back, even if he had to drag them out of the empire himself.
"Setzer...What're you going to do now?"
"Fix my ship, of course. Life'd be boring without wings," he'd replied, spanner in hand and engine oil running in streams through his silver hair.
He couldn't place it, but there was a bond forming between them, between him and these misfit adventurers. He didn't believe in the whole 'brothers in arms' thing Cyan would spout every now and again, but he did think battle had something to do with it. Plunging into battle, with each fight a fight they could lose...They were gamblers, just like him. He knew other gamblers, of course, but those gamblers were just walking wads of neurosis and depression, of no real interest because they had nothing of value to lose. Strange, that he'd stopped viewing himself as one of those gamblers. He had things to lose, now. He had his ship, he had this...cause, whatever it was, and he had his friends who were bonded to him with it.
"Say, Edgar. How do you deal with it?" he asked as the king stopped in, with a girl from the Empire attached to his arm.
"With what?" he asked, shooting a glance at his lady friend. It said, he's good looking, but I'm better still.
"The thought you might die with every battle you fight," he said, dropping another gear back into place.
"Never thought about it. You're right, in that every battle is a gamble...But if we die, our ideals will never be achieved. Because of that, losing isn't an option, so I've made it a little rule of mine to never lose."
Heh. Just what you'd expect from someone who carries around a double-headed coin, he thought cynically. Nevertheless, he saw the wisdom in the words. Perhaps one day he could think like that- that life was a gamble never to be lost under any circumstances.
The earth split in two on that day, and the sky burst into flames. His ship crashed like a falling star, and him with it. Everything was thunder and chaos, and nothing made sense anymore. Where was that cocky bravado Edgar preached? Where was Terra's solemn promise of peace? Where was Celes and her grim determination? Could they all have been swept away, meaningless, on the tide of Kefka's mad laughter?
He woke up in the wreckage of his ship, one hand still clutching to the wheel with bone white knuckles. He let go of the wheel and the arm dropped with a thud, broken in three places. Oh.
It took a while before he could walk. Cure magic was a boon, but there was only so much it could do. It could mend his arm, and it could stem the tide of blood that lapped at his sides, but it couldn't heal the deeper pain he felt, stabbing him from inside his mind.
As he convalesced, he hallucinated. He couldn't walk and he didn't have food, so it was to be expected. His mind re-ran visions of his first crash, a mere shadow of this one. It'd been sheer overconfidence that caused it, and the engines failed. The belly of his ship had lowered slowly to the ground, tearing away with the friction. It was all so agonisingly slow. He'd made up his mind, then and there, that, when he died, it would be a lot more fun than this. Then, a huge jolt. He flew forwards over the wheel and crashed through glass canopy headfirst. The world had faded to black. He awoke to see Daryl above him, battling furiously with the flames from his engine. She'd been right behind him the whole time.
"Setzer, you idiot. I can understand, but come on- you should know your limits. Your face is scarred up pretty bad...There's a ton of glass in it," she'd said to him as she dragged him from the wreckage.
From that day on, he promised himself to go and find her in return, if ever she crashed. And he removed the glass canopy from his airship designs.
After two days without food or water, he finally staggered to his feet. He felt fragile inside. Setting up a steady trudge, he walked. He wanted to go somewhere, anywhere. As chance would have it, he stumbled to the town of Kohlingen, and then into the bar. Seeing the alabaster man, marinated in his own blood, the barkeep did what barkeeps did best, and poured him a drink.
He sat in the bar of Kohlingen, and wondered what to do. He sat in the bar of Kohlingen, and decided not to gamble, because the only thing he could gamble with was his life, and that no longer had any value. He sat in the bar of Kohlingen, and decided never to leave.
They found him, after a whole year of him drinking himself into a stupor. He occasionally gambled with idiots who passed by to pay for his drink. He wasn't as good when he was sober, but he still beat the mooks eighty percent of the time, and that was enough to keep him in booze money.
He sat and drank as Celes brought him up to speed on what had happened to her. She'd tried to end it by throwing herself off a cliff. He scowled. Broken feelings, brought on by his one-time dream of marrying her, riled in his gut. He'd seen one girl crash to the ground and die- he didn't need to see another one.
"I've not got it in me to fight anymore. I've lost my wings..." he said, lifting his glass to his lips once more.
"You want to live in the world as it is? No? Then do something about it!" she yelled, startling him. A moment ticked away.
"Heh...All right. You win. I'm starting to feel lucky!" he said.
And, for once, he wasn't lying, wasn't making bravado. Somehow, the fact that these people were still there, still alive, made him feel ashamed of his inaction. He could gamble all he liked, but could he ever win back the year he'd spent moping? They hadn't lost yet, anyway. They'd just made the wrong bet at the wrong time, but this time, they'd be playing for higher stakes with more ammo. And they'd have one hell of a trump card hidden up their sleeve.
"Come on," he said. "We're going to get some new wings."
Daryl. Am I doing the right thing, I wonder?, he asked himself as he descended the steps to her lost legacy. The euphoria, the gambler's high of beating the odds and finding his friends, had worn off. He'd only just realised, without alcohol and adrenaline to prop him up, how very tired he was. Tired of battles. Tired of gambling. Tired of living on the ragged edge and falling off, only to claw his way back through pure dumb luck.
"Come on, Setzer. The stars aren't getting any closer, y'know!" she'd said one evening, only a month or so before she disappeared. She was right. Ever since she'd gone, the stars had only gotten further away, and he hadn't done a damn thing to bring them back. He almost felt ashamed.
Silently, he got aboard the ship. He noted how well his restoration (the futile, manic attempt to cling to the past) had gone. There was almost no trace of the flames that had ripped through the belly of the aircraft. He stroked the timbers affectionately. It was a good airship, better still than any he'd made. It wouldn't let him down.
"All aboard, folks. Wouldn't want to leave you down there," he smirked.
"Tell me, is there any chance this airship will fall out of the sky?" Edgar asked.
"Yes, but she won't. She's got something important to do when this war's done."
True enough. And so had he. He couldn't gamble anymore, because if he didn't fly to the stars, who would? It'd be left undone, for all eternity. He couldn't afford to take chances, to hedge his bets. From now on, it was all in until he finally reached his goal.
He reached for the controls, and the great engine started a roar below them. The vibrations jostled his senses, stealing up his spine and through his hands. There really was no going back. It didn't matter.
Because a journey to the stars was always going to be a one-way ticket.
A/N: To be honest, I forgot where I was going with this about halfway through. I hope it's still enjoyable, especially for the person who I promised it to. Sorry it's so late!